Kortney Hause: A footballer in limbo

In the wilderness for over a year, injured and out of sight and mind, Kortney Hause has been back at Aston Villa for several months without updates on his recovery.

It followed a disrupted and acrimonious loan spell at Watford for the centre-back.

On January 9, The Athletic highlighted Watford’s desire to terminate Hause’s season-long loan after a contentious knee injury. There was no break clause and Villa had planned to keep him out on loan, ensuring they paid the agreed contribution toward his £25,000-a-week salary. At the end of that month, the defender was left out of Watford’s 25-man squad for the remainder of the season, with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) engaged in discussions with both clubs on the matter. A compromise was proving elusive.

Hause made three appearances for Watford and last featured in a matchday squad against Wigan Athletic on October 29, 2022. He has not kicked a ball in anger since.

Hause had joined Watford two months earlier. The 28-year-old wanted regular game time and Villa, having signed Southampton’s Jan Bednarek as defensive cover, arranged for the year without him. The conditions of the loan were agreed and Hause passed his medical, despite a minor operation to his right knee over the summer.

The defender’s right knee had been a source of pain in recent years. He would take tablets to ease the soreness before training and after feeling a lump, wanted to visit a specialist to unearth the route of the long-standing problem. Eventually, Hause visited Andy Williams, a knee surgeon in London regarded as one of the best in Europe. Within two days, Williams had Hause in for surgery.

The window of recovery took just six weeks, with an acceptance from the player’s side that he should have visited Williams before. The successful operation, however, meant he was fit in time to join Watford, even if he harboured growing doubts over the wear and tear of his left knee.

The right knee had been given the all-clear by Williams but Hause knew surgery would be required on his left at some point. When Hause first joined Watford, he trained daily, but due to his physical condition, was unable to do so at maximum intensity and show he was deserving of a place in the starting lineup.

Watford, though, who naturally did not know how the defender was feeling internally, wanted him to form the spine of their team with sporting director Cristiano Giaretta pushing the deal. Sources close to Watford, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect relationships, say the club was disappointed at the player not raising doubts over his knees before signing on loan.

Being on loan diluted the situation. Hause was now of little value to either club, with his subsequent fade into obscurity leaving a sour taste in many mouths.

“There has been a bit of a difference of opinions about his treatment,” said then Watford manager, Slaven Bilic, in January. By this stage, Hause had not featured since October but was still on loan at Watford. “He wants surgery. Nobody else was in favour of surgery. And it has been like that for three months.

“I’m gutted for him and for us. He is also gutted about this, don’t get me wrong. He was going to be one of our main men who would help us go back to the Premier League, and I haven’t seen him play.”

Watford, Kortney Hause

Hause spent last season on loan at Watford (Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)

Hause reported his knee issue to Watford but felt he received little empathy or attention. He was asked to continue training and manage his gym sessions, yet Hause, feeling discomfort, could not work at 100 per cent or do himself justice in training and pushed to have surgery.

Instead of the injury being managed carefully so he could still play, as Watford intended, progress was slow going. Watford preferred for Hause to see a specialist, hoping to avoid intrusive treatment and return within a similar timeframe to his recovery from the injury to his right knee.

During his time at the club, three specialists looked at Hause’s knee. The sticking point was that Hause viewed this injury as needing greater rehabilitation.

In the end, Watford accepted Hause could no longer compete physically in training. Bilic’s assistant Dean Racunica, who admired Hause’s athleticism at Villa, noted a marked difference in the player who was at Watford and realised the situation was unsustainable. There were times when observers close to the situation wondered if Hause could be physically capable of playing again.

It created a rift between Watford and Hause’s camp, who felt the player’s feelings and health were not being taken seriously enough because the club were paying his salary. A source close to the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the two-month impasse as “very dark times”.

Discussions took place regarding Hause returning to Villa’s Bodymoor Heath campus. A termination of the season-long loan agreement, however, would need to be mutually agreed by both clubs and require ratification from the EFL. Even when it reached a stage when it became clear there was no alternative, by the terms of the loan agreement, Watford carried on paying his wages.

The defender underwent further rehabilitation at Watford, in accordance with the terms of the loan. On January 20, Hause posted on his Instagram, with the caption reading “Prisoner.” That same day, he elaborated on his frustration at the timetabling of Watford’s treatment.

“The fact I’ve got to wait four and half hours between physio sessions is beyond me,” he wrote. “What has my life come to? If I don’t laugh I’ll cry.”

Sources close to Watford suggest the club was surprised at the post as he was still being paid.

The defender was aggrieved at being asked to arrive at the club’s training ground early in the morning but could not see a physio until the afternoon, leaving him to wait around Watford’s training ground. When there was initial hope he would return within six weeks, Hause was timetabled to be in the gym in the morning before working with a physio an hour later. The shift in schedule seemed to serve as an indication he was no longer of worth, isolated, and being poorly treated.

On February 10, an agreement was reached for Hause to return to Villa, coinciding with the decision to finally have knee surgery. Once more, Williams performed the operation, with Hause undergoing the various stages of recovery inside Villa’s refurbished gym and working individually with a club physio.

After setbacks in his recovery which delayed his return, there is now a sense Hause is finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. His experiences took a toll from a psychological standpoint — stepping up his ambitions to release music during his time away from football — but the hope is he will return to playing for Villa’s under-21 side towards the back end of this year ahead of a potential loan move in January. 

By then, Hause will have 18 months left on his existing deal and although he is yet to have a conversation with Villa head coach Unai Emery, he has held discussions with director of football Damian Vidagany and president of football operations Monchi.

Hause is unlikely to be named in Villa’s 25-man squad in January, finding himself towards the bottom of head coach Emery’s centre-back options which include Ezri Konsa, Diego Carlos, Pau Torres, Clement Lenglet and Calum Chambers.

A move elsewhere will likely be the determining solution, provided he can prove his form and fitness in the interim. But having become the forgotten man at two clubs, putting the last year behind him is the first priority.

Aston Villa did not respond when contacted by The Athletic.

(Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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